The Subcontinent: Ayodhya; End of India's Secular Dream?

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The Subcontinent: Ayodhya; End of India's Secular Dream?

The further resurgence of Hindu extremism will likely dominate Indian politics in this last decade of the 20th century, although it may cost the country dearly in the long run. The present carnage is not a mere dispute over a mosque versus a temple. It represents something much more significant and goes deeper into the ethos of the Hindu nation.

Tactics and targets adopted by Hindu religious party politicians were plain and simple. The training and preparations undertaken by their followers at camps around the country during the past two years provided clear evidence of the intentions of the hundreds of thousands of Hindu extremists who thronged to Faizabad, also called Ayodhya, on Dec. 6, 1992. What is amazing is the complaint of Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao that he was taken in, duped and misled by the Bharatiya Janata Party leadership. It is either a case of total ineptitude or a sad example of a government that is operating from inside an ivory tower, afraid and paralyzed.

An even less charitable explanation is that New Delhi had the information and read the developments correctly but chose to look the other way under the cover of constitutional constraints, while letting the 463-year-old Babri Masjid fall with the hope of making the BJP pay a political price for it. That more than 1,500 people, mostly Muslims, died in the process was perhaps little more than what was expected--a fair move in a political game in which you sacrifice a pawn to save the castle. The question is: how many more such moves before the game is won or lost?

A World Reacts and Watches

Widespread killings in several parts of India, including the otherwise peaceful commercial capital of Bombay, sparked violent reactions in neighboring Pakistan and Bangladesh. The aftermath of the destruction of the Babri Masjid recalled the post-independence bloodbath that took place in the subcontinent in 1947 and reminded the world of the vulnerability of minorities living in the midst of unfriendly majorities everywhere. The human hatreds unleashed recall the advent of the Nazis in Germany in the 1930s and the current Serbian atrocities in Bosnia.

Under the headline "Mob on the Rampage as Police Look On," Mohan Sahay and Ishan Joshi wrote in the Statesman of Delhi: "A mob of Kar Sewaks [literal translation: social workers] pulled down the. . .Babri Mosque. . .as police and paramilitary forces watched, some helplessly and others hopefully."

Dilip Ashwati, in a blow-by-blow account of the attack on the mosque, wrote in the leading bimonthly magazine India Today: "The scenes will return, like deranged ghosts, to haunt those of us who were at the graveside to witness the burial of the secular dream. . .If there were no implements, the frenzied hordes would have used their bare hands to the same effect, so powerful was the poison that coursed through their veins."

In a separate India Today article, Inderjit Badhwar wrote: "Like a million twisting, spiralling tornadoes the forces let loose by the vandalism at Ayodhya have begun not just to take a ghastly toll of human lives, but also to reduce to rubble the edifice of our hopes and aspirations as a people and as a nation. . .Ayodhya is a microcosm of this country's tenacious inability to tackle its problems head on. . .Ayodhya is Punjab. Ayodhya is Kashmir."

Like Indian and foreign reporters, former Indian Prime Minister V.P. Singh placed primary responsibility for most of the deaths on the police and other law enforcement officials. "Eighty to 90 percent of the killings. . .have been of Muslims with police bullets," he told Reuters.

At the urging of Cabinet Minister Arjun Singh, Prime Minister Rao banned the three major Hindu organizations, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Rashtriya Sewak Sangh and the Bajrangdal. …